Just returned from a trip to Toronto. Wow. I think I have fallen in love with a city. Within an hour of our arrival, we were whisked away from the airport by a friend and on the ferry out to Centre Island. All of Toronto was on the ferry, too, in its multicultural splendor. Standing at the rail with the sun high above and a cool breeze sweeping the water, I closed my eyes and listened to the strangely symphonic blend of Arabic, Asian, Latin, European, and African dialects as they overtook the recognizable notes of American English and those round Canadian vowels that have crept as far south as Chicago in some instances. (Ask a native Chicagoan to say "farm" if you don't believe me. It's a hoot.) Once we reached the island, scores of families were picnicking under the trees. A Sikh family was admiring a robust blonde toddler named Nicola. A woman in a sari carried a bowl of something warm and curried to a woman in a burqa and introduced herself. Hasidic Jewish boys kicked a soccer ball with some boys who were rooting for Portugal in the World Cup. Interracial children were everywhere, beautiful hybrids of Korea and Ethiopia, Palestine and France, Greece and India. Everyone seemed to have a cooler and a dog, a wagon full of kids. It was dazzling.
We rented kayaks and paddled the waterways that laced the island. From there we were afforded fish-eye views of a number of 19th century arched bridges. Pilots of sailboats and motorboats navigating in and out of Lake Ontario would slow down to say hello and make small talk. One crusty dude sprawled on his boat at the water's edge, taking deep drags on a joint. He squinted, nodded, said "hey" as we passed. We paddled underneath two strings of gondola cars from which waved excited kids who were either coming from or going to the petting zoo. In one hour we heard shrieks from a small amusement park on the island fade to silence; for a while, the only sound was of water swirling away beside us, punctuated here and there by the fluttering of a duck or swan. At one point I turned to my partner and said, "I feel like we're in heaven." This was before we actually spent time in the city and noticed that no one thought it was remarkable for two gay men to hold hands or for a businessman to hold the door for lesbian couple with their hands full of babies and all their accountrements. This was before we saw the careful blending of historical architecture and modern aesthetics. Before we had a late dinner at a sidewalk cafe or danced in a bar where the windows opened fully along the street, merging the worlds outside and in. Before we bought scarves from the Tibetan Buddhist who was unperturbed by the more exotic patrons of the leather fetish shop next door. Before we got caught up in the eruption of joy and Greek flags and spontaneous dancing, shrieking, and honking that announced the end of a soccer match halfway around the world. Before the Sunday morning when we saw the Department of Health bus pull up at a park where homeless people were waking up just in time for their screenings and medications. This was before we saw that every other street corner was occupied by an unobtrusive drop box into which you could deposit your recyclable cans, bottles, paper, and trash. Did I mention that the people were friendly and did not seem to mind that we were Americans? The hotel clerk even laughed when I told her we were all fleeing our country. I guess she thought I was kidding.
But there you have it. The next time some xenophobic, homophobic, Islamophobic, race-baiting Republican recites for you the perils of liberty and justice for all, point them in the direction of Toronto. Let them see for themselves that civilization is only advanced by the ways of cooperation and inclusion. Go there yourself when you need a positive vision for the future. If our country continues to go down the path bulldozed by Bush and his puppetmasters, the depth of our failure will be vast in contrast to the shining example of our neighbors to the north.